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Ukraine’s doctors pushed to the limit by COVID-19 wave

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KAKHOVKA, Ukraine, Nov 21, (AP): As coronavirus infections hit Ukraine, a single shift for Dr. Oleksandr Molchanov now stretches to 42 hours — 24 of them in Kakhovka’s hospital, followed by another 18 hours spent visiting tents set up to care for 120 COVID-19 patients. While vaccination rates in Eastern Europe have generally lagged, Ukraine has one of the lowest in the region. But because of its underfunded and struggling health care system, the situation has turned dire nearly two years since the virus swept into Europe.

Dr. Oleksandr Molchanov stands in a corridor taking a short rest after performing CPR on a patient at a hospital in Kakhovka, Ukraine, on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Health care workers like Molchanov are being stretched to the limit because of a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths in Ukraine. (AP)

The country is setting records almost every day for infections and deaths, most recently on Tuesday, when 838 deaths were reported. “We are extinguishing the fire again. We are working as at the front, but our strength and capabilities are limited,” said Molchanov, who works at the hospital in the city in southern Ukraine on the Dnieper River. “We are working to the limit.” After his grueling shift, the 32-year-old doctor goes home to sleep and recover for two days. The next one may be even more challenging. “The situation is only getting worse,” Molchanov said. “Hospital beds are running out, there are more and more serious patients, and there is a sore lack of doctors and medical personnel.”

The tents beside Kakhovka’s hospital have 120 beds, and 87 of them are occupied, with more patients arriving every day. But Molchanov is one of only three doctors to care for them. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration inherited a health care system that was undermined by reforms launched by his predecessor that closed many small-town hospitals. In those communities, people have to seek care in large cities. If the problem is severe enough that a patient needs an ambulance, the wait can be as long as eight hours. “They are bringing patients in extremely difficult condition, with a protracted form” of COVID-19, said Dr. Anatoliy Galachenko, who also works at the tent hospital. “The main reason is the remoteness of settlements and the impossibility of providing assistance at the primary stages of the disease.” Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who leads the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said she has traveled to many hospitals in Ukraine and found shortages everywhere.

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